Foreign Policy Digital

It Takes a Village to Make a Monster

Omar al-Bashir is gone—but he was never the key to Sudan’s oppression to begin with.

The world loves to hate a villain, and Sudan’s recently ousted president, Omar al-Bashir, is a villain worthy of despise. During his 30 years of autocratic rule, he presided over the deaths of millions of Sudanese citizens, oversaw the establishment of proxy militia that have devastated communities across the country, and fostered a ruthless security apparatus that has tortured thousands of dissidents. The demise of this villain, however, means less than many casual observers in the West might imagine.

Set up to fail by the administrative policies of British colonialists, Sudan has been in a state of near-perpetual civil war since its independence in 1956. Last week’s ouster of Bashir marked the fifth military coup in the country’s post-independence history. And while it is certainly a milestone, Bashir’s exit from center stage does not make a dint in the structural pathologies he nurtured.

Sudanese themselves know well: Sudan’s governance challenges stem from an “acute crisis of national identity.” In a country of extraordinary ethnic, religious, cultural, and linguistic diversity, different regimes have attempted to control the country through a process of divide and conquer. Rather than foster an inclusive national identity, entire regions of the country have been repeatedly marginalized on account of actual or perceived ethnic or religious differences.

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